Digital project management toolkit series: Harvest / Forecast

by Jayne Hetherington

When we begin a project here at Fresh Tilled Soil, we fire up an arsenal of digital tools to help us keep the trains running on time. Although our project management process is flexible enough to adapt to the communication style of each of our partners, we’ve landed on a core suite of applications that has streamlined our daily work flow and maximized efficiencies.

This is the third in a series of posts outlining the Digital Project Management Toolkit.

What they are:

Harvest is a time-tracking application, and Forecast is a team scheduling and utilization app. You can sign into both apps with a single Harvest ID, and information from one app flows into the other. Project information (client, duration, budget, team members) are entered into Harvest and then can be utilized through Forecast for scheduling purposes.

Go ahead, email me!

Go ahead, email me!

We always import to ensure all projects map to both apps.

We always import to ensure all projects map to both apps.

Internal or external communication?

Internal only. Most of the tools we use (namely Drive, Dropbox, and Basecamp) are used both internally and externally, but Harvest and Forecast are so internally-focused that I was reluctant to even write this post. I’ll dive into the root of my hesitation in the ‘why’ section below.

How we use them:

All projects, both for clients and internal (e.g. our own website redesign), get entered into Harvest, and then we build out the team schedule according to capacity, project duration, and project goals using Forecast. We also track time spent on prospects so we’re capturing sales/marketing trends.

Every Friday, each project team has an internal meeting to discuss their upcoming week. Plans for the week are given in rounded chunks, focused on project goals, e.g. Alex will be creating of a set of high-fidelity wireframes for a conversion flow that targets Persona B, which will take approximately half of her time for the week.

Team members then enter their hours on a weekly basis and we review the combination of team capacity, project deadlines/duration, and project goals as a holistic objective.

Screenshot of Forecast. Project names are listed on the lefthand panel, but are blocked here for client privacy. Each Project Manager ’s project are indicated by a different color (pink, turquoise, purple shown here).

Screenshot of Forecast. Project names are listed on the lefthand panel, but are blocked here for client privacy. Each Project Manager ’s project are indicated by a different color (pink, turquoise, purple shown here).

Why we use them:

Here’s the sticky part: at Fresh, we structure goal-oriented, value-focused, KPI-driven projects, but we also track hours. As project managers, we long dreamt of a utopia where project hours weren’t tracked – until we realized that utopia was actually our hell. Projects need to have a duration because time exists and clients have deadlines. And because we want Fresh employees to have a solid workload but also take vacations and see their families, there are a finite number of hours in a work day/week/month, and ultimately, project duration.

When we were utopia-dreaming, it seemed that a focus on value and the use of time tracking tools were at odds; but, in fact, they’re entirely complementary. As we scope a client project, the aim is to impart as much value as possible in the shortest duration we can. We work with clients to define work streams that target KPIs and to create deliverables that are mapped to specific value metrics. We use Harvest and Forecast to manage time as a project dimension, transforming time into a utility that, in part, leads to a value-based end goal.

About Jayne Hetherington

Jayne started her career as an adjunct professor teaching mass media, digital studies, and media theory classes while also working as a project manager at...